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The success story

The Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology has made rapid strides in basic and socially relevant research, apart from being a meeting point for art and science. On the occasion of its silver jubilee, at major scientific symposium and two mini symposiums besides a cultural programme have been scheduled. RADHIKA RAJAMANI reports.



PREMIER INSTITUTE: The Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology.

A WORLD-class centre which has pioneered biological research in the country, the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, has stood for excellence in every field. Equipped with state-of-the art facilities, it is unique in that art and culture has been integrated into the scientific fabric as well. This impressive research centre is celebrating its silver jubilee this year and a series of programmes are planned for the week. The celebrations, which got underway, on November 24, will be held till November 29.

Set up in 1977, the CCMB became a national laboratory in 1981-82 and was dedicated to the nation in 1987 by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.



MEETING GROUND: Art camps and exhibitions are periodically held at the centre. — Photos: K. Ramesh Babu

The CCMB has not just pioneered basic high quality research in bio medicine and bio technology, genetics and evolution, cell biology and development, molecular biology, bio chemistry and bio physics and genomics but it is also into socially relevant research (DNA Finger printing, DNA diagnostics and Conservation of Endangered Species) industrial collaboration (bio technology and bio-informatics) and technology development (gene/drug delivery systems, gene products of therapeutic value, DNA markers for hybrid seeds/coffee germplasm. It has helped popularise science and science education in schools.

Importantly, the Centre has been a meeting point for art and science as the basis for both is creativity. "The endeavour was to build the world's best functional laboratory, also the most beautiful one and the least expensive one,'' says Dr. P.M.Bhargava. And if anyone walked down the central court of the centre one will find its walls adorned with paintings. Or, if one had passed by in the last week they would have had glimpses of artists painting on canvas in the central court. An art camp was held recently when artists from different cities, besides local ones, coalesced for a week of creativity. And this centre has surely encouraged creativity - whether in science or arts. Art camps and exhibitions have been held periodically and the works are mounted on the walls. "The art gallery also helps to serve as an interface with the public.'' says Dr. Bhargava, the founder-director. It was perhaps the first institute to have an artist-in-residence for about seven- eight years.

Surya Prakash, a renowned artist of the twin cities, designed most of the official rooms barring the labs. "The late Homi Bhabha used to collect a few paintings for the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai. He had also asked M.F. Husain to paint a mural. Contemporary art was on display at a small gallery. CCMB went ahead by not just collecting art but by organising camps and seminars and workshops,'' says Surya Prakash, who curates group or solo shows for the Centre. And it is not just artists but artistes from other disciplines who spend time here. The CCMB has played a proactive role in interacting with artists, artistes, intellectuals (even Noam Chomsky delivered a lecture here) and people from other fields like industry and bureaucracy. The atmosphere is very congenial for dialogues on relationship between art and science. Taking a cue from this the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute too has adorned its walls with works of art and Surya Prakash is now the artist-in-residence here.

There are perhaps many reasons for CCMB's emergence as a premier research institute and a centre for excellence.



UNIQUE FEATURE: Surya Prakash was the first artist in residence

"Even before the first brick was laid it was decided that the Centre would be a leader and not the follower,'' says Dr. P. M. Bhargava. "The timing of the start of the Centre in the mid-Seventies (though it was established in 1977) was an interesting period in Biology with developments in immunology, genetic engineering, invitro-fertilisation and use of information technology in biology. There were people who were exposed to these and who were part of all this excitement. One of the centres established by the Government was the CCMB," says Dr. D. Balasubramanian, Former Director. " The objectives were clear from the beginning - the institute undertook high-quality basic research (building up world-class infrastructure followed) and served as a training ground.

A crucial factor was the absence of hierarchy endorsed by both the former directors. "No discrimination is made between both the categories of employees. The support staff is as good and dedicated as research staff. Therefore, it is natural that people develop discipline, honesty and integrity," says Dr. Bhargava. "There were/are no divisions in the labs either - no breakdown of biology into segments - everybody was/is working in fundamental areas," says Dr. Balasubramanian. Excellent communication facilities and perfect maintenance go a long way in setting standards. The library and other labs are really state of the art. "There is nothing like supervision, everybody does their own work,'' says Dr. Bhargava.''

Another factor contributing to excellence is a strong transparent administration, says Dr. Lalji Singh, Director of CCMB. Also a good instrumentation group looks into repairs, most of which is done in house. "Complacence has not set in to slow down things," says Dr.Lalji Singh. "The Centre operates like a university system with a number of doctoral and post-doctoral students. It has the strength of youth and even though it is 25 years old it is young in its heart," says Dr. Balasubramanian. "There has been an increase in the number of research scholars over the years,'' states Dr. Lalji Singh. "The scientists and others took trouble to interact with people at large - be it with media, students, artists and others," says Dr. Balasubramanian.

In the course of the last few years under Dr.Lalji's Singh's stewardship, the Centre has also started the microarray (DNA chip), Bioinformatics and Proteomics but funds have to be constantly sought for any new ventures, he adds. As part of the silver jubilee celebrations a symposium on the "The Current Excitement in Biology'' is planned. A mini symposium on `Ethical and Socio-Political Issues of Modern Biology' (scheduled for November 25), another mini symposium on `Relationship between Science and Art' (scheduled for November 27) featuring experts in the field of art, dance and cinema and folk dances from Gujarat (performed by Avishkar, an academy of performing arts) on November 28 are part of the scientific symposium.

Bio Sciences will dominate the 21st Century and the founding fathers of CCMB had the foresight to set it up much ahead. Indians have the potential to offer to the country, nay, to the whole world, a number of applications of use to society in the field of cellular and molecular biology. In this milieu, the Centre, which has been set up with high ideals, cannot disappoint us.

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